Selling with Facts vs. Information vs. Stories

Do you travel for work, maybe somewhere unusual?

I don't want to "one-up" you, but I recently went to Devil’s Lake North Dakota.

Why? A company hired me to train their sales staff how to sell Ferrari parts.

My task? Turn this frozen warehouse in the middle of nowhere into a high-powered sales office for Italian autoparts.

There will be blood

Monday 8am: I was flat on my back on the frozen pavement in the middle of the Arctic landscape that is wintertime in Devil’s Lake. I could not feel my left leg.

Then my right arm went numb and my ears were ringing. I turned to the side and saw the snow turning to red slush under my head. Was that blood? Or more to the point, was that MY BLOOD?

Now, if you had to pick a place on the map that was the exact polar, and I do mean POLAR opposite of my home in Beverly Hills, it might very well be Devil’s Lake. First of all, it’s always cold there, unless it’s blisteringly hot.

Today it was minus 20.

A thermal gloved hand materialized in front of my eyes. “Here, boss,” said Big Danny, the lead supervisor of the warehouse. “Take my hand. You stay down any longer your head’s gonna freeze to the pavement. Probably have to cut your hair to get you up then. Don’t believe me? I’ve seen it happen.”

“Wait, I think I’m bleeding. Maybe I shouldn’t be moved,” I said through chattering teeth. Was I going into shock from sudden blood loss? Was I going to die here, freeze to death from a head wound in the parking lot of the Dew Drop Inn?

“That’s not blood Chief, that’s the coffee that you spilled. You’re fine, let’s get moving.”

Danny doesn’t wait for me to reach out, pulls me up by the front of my jacket and brushes me off like I’m five. I struggle to regain my balance because the parking lot of my motel is basically an ice-hill.

I am literally on a slippery slope.

NOW I understand why people warn each other about slippery slopes.

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At least I wasn't burned by a cup full of black coffee as I went down …. it froze in the air on the way to my face. (all you skeptics …. check this video out)

On that particular day in January it was, as the Irish say, as cold as Finnegan’s feet the day they buried him. It was so cold that you couldn’t even get dark chocolate – they told me that the stuff just explodes into ice-crystals at -35 so they won’t carry it until May at the earliest.

Big Danny …

“You’re gonna need to get some real boots out here,” Big Danny tells me, stating the obvious. He looks me over and clearly I'm not impressive.

“And you should get a puffier coat and a warm hat that covers your ears.”

“Remember, out here the native Inuits still use refrigerators so they can keep their food from freezing. You get that boss? It’s so cold you need a fridge to keep your food warm."

He continued, "… and you know, just to educate you on some key survival strategies up here, you lose eighty percent of your body heat through your head. Can’t afford to do that in North Dakota, no sir. You want me to take you to the Walmart before we head to the shop and get you rigged out?”

“No thanks, Big Danny,” I said limping toward his big truck. “I don’t want to be late on my first day meeting the team.”

 “Your funeral,” Big Danny said with a shrug.

I climbed into the driver’s side of his truck. In Devil’s Lake, most roads lead out over frozen water, and only the locals know what’s frozen, and what’s not.

Facts vs. Information vs. Stories

Let me explain the situation in Devil’s Lake because it’s a dramatic story in and of itself.

For the past 20 years, Devil’s Lake has been partially under water. Since 1993, the water level has been on the rise and swallowed 285 square miles, over 400 homes, and 200 million dollars' worth of other stuff.

Those are stone-cold facts

You go too far in any one direction and you see the roofs of zombie farmhouses peeking out just above water level.

Roads just stop and the only choice at that point is to turn around and go back where you came from, or follow the tire tracks and the street signs that lead you out across the lake where many have gone to die.

That’s useful information.

Well, what about some stories?

You don’t need them out here.

So here I am, on the lip of the dangerous unknown, with only the advice of a friendly local named “Big Danny” to guide me across this frozen cemetery.

They don’t call this place Devil’s Lake for nothing.

This is a place where facts aren't just important. They’re the only thing.

But facts don't sell.

Buyers don't buy "facts" and here's why:

As an investor and analyst, I know how important it is to present with solid evidence and good statistics. This is so you can overcome the other person with data.

In the past, I assumed this was the best way to prove that I was right and my product was the best.

Since then, I’ve discovered a significant problem with this approach.

It doesn’t work.

The mind doesn’t follow facts.

Products don’t sell no matter how credible and convincing your facts might be.

  • Buyers tend to ignore evidence that goes against their beliefs
  • They overvalue evidence that confirms them.

Think back to the last time you Googled a question. Did you meticulously read each link to get a broad objective picture? Or did you simply skim through the links looking for the page that confirms what you already believed was true?

Buyer’s only listen to facts only if they support what they already believe in.

Back in Devil's Lake, its the kind of place where locals don't appreciate the concept of storytelling.

Stories and embellishments, sarcasm, those are things full of nuance and inaccuracy – which can kill you.

And I am here to have to teach storytelling to business people who just "offer up the facts."

I have to stop them from telling customers things like, "well ok then, just call me back if you're interested."

I'm going to have to teach them how to “upsell.”

How to use intrigue and how to close.

Right. Good luck. This is going to take a formula.

So what kind of magic formula will I come up with to make the staff in Devil’s Lake capable of selling Ferrari parts to California millionaires?

Tune in next week and find out.

Why I write these emails

I'm an investor and M&A advisor, where I’m involved in high-stakes financial transactions which often reveal interesting facts about core human nature.

My observations about people and how they buy from each other led to the book Pitch Anything, and help me understand how to navigate today’s complex business world.

I take the time to share these stories with you in recognition that it may give us a reason to connect and work together on a new and interesting project.

If you've got a big idea and want to grow your company (or it's time for you to sell), there are a lot of ways we can and should work together, let's talk.

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